Sun | Mar 18, 2018

Unmask cops - JCF face more criticisms over decision to allow some police to wear masks on operations

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMJason Cross
Parchment Brown

Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake has defended the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) policy of allowing some policemen and women to cover their faces with masks during some operations.

The use of masks by police personnel on operations has long been a contentious issue, but addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, Blake defended the force as he argued that specific policies are in place to determine when and where they can be used.

While not providing the specifics of the policy, Blake insisted that the identities of police personnel have to be protected in some operations, and this must be approved at the highest level.

According to Blake, it is not a regular occurrence for masks to be used, but argued that it is usually effective when utilised.

"When last has it ever been used? In effect, the policy is working and is effective. It is only used as an absolute necessity and it will have to be applied for and approved, at a very high level," Blake told Gleaner editors and reporters.

"I don't want to give specifics because you don't want to alert people to the activities or reasons. Suffice to say, the essence of the policy says that sometimes there is need to protect the identity of the officers in certain operations, and this is where the policy is applicable.

It governs certain operations where we need to disguise the identities of some of our operatives," said Blake.

But Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) countered that the police High Command did not have the authority to approve the wearing of masks.

Williams noted that INDECOM has constantly pointed out that the uniform and accoutrements of the forces must be approved by the minister, and, as regards the JCF, published in the Book of Rules, "those rules do not permit mask wearing".




"The issues of mask wearing and poor record keeping exemplify the difficulties with police leadership. How did a professional force allow members to decide, unilaterally, to wear masks? Why was no one punished? Today, citizens continue to complain of encounters with masked policemen. The commanders, at best, must be guilty of wilful blindness," Williams had previously argued.

Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels also argued that under no circumstance should the police wear mask on operations. According to Samuels, this is a policy that should be discarded as it could be dangerous.

"What I make of it is that I cannot agree that there are any circumstances which justify that, because the identity of the police, if anything goes wrong, is important to the citizens," declared Samuels.

"The identity of the police, including their badge number, should be known to the public. I can't support it in any form. The identification number and the face of the police are important because it opens the floodgates. There is no accountability if the police are wearing masks," added Samuels.

For political ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown, the issue of wearing or not wearing masks is a dilemma that has to be dealt with urgently.

She argued that the police could be allowed to wear masks on the rarest of occasions.

"This is quite a dilemma we have to deal with. In terms of public safety and security, one wants to be able to identify people who may operate wrongfully. My understanding is that the police have a protocol regarding masks. The danger, of course, is that if it is permitted, then there is a risk that a person who is not permitted may do it.

"One is then not able to check the official source to get verification to say yes, it was permitted on the 10th of June in Black River at 6 p.m. for an authorised operation," said Parchment Brown.

"The other side of the coin is that certain officers who are operating certain types of investigations may have a greater vulnerability to be attacked by wrongdoers if their identity is known, so their family, their colleagues, could be in jeopardy because of the risk of identification," added Parchment Brown.


West Kingston Enquiry Report (findings)


11.60: Evidence was given that members of the security forces wore masks during the operation. In the case of the JDF, the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) approved the wearing of masks by (soldiers) to protect their identities.

But there was also evidence of soldiers wearing handkerchiefs as improvised masks, and some JCF personnel wearing masks.

None of these persons was authorised to wear masks. We accept the evidence of Mr. (Earl) Witter that on 25 May, he saw members of the JCF wearing masks.

We find that some members of the security forces wore masks to avoid identification or to avoid individual accountability for their actions.

11.61. Those who were supervising officers wearing masks ought to have put a stop to the practice. We are driven to conclude that there was either weak supervision or a supervisory permissiveness that facilitated or ignored abusive conduct towards residents. This was most evident in the JCF.